CONCEALMENT 20 Guide to Home Security Camera Systems Patrick McCarthy Join the Conversation Situational awareness is a subject that’s discussed constantly in the self-defense community, and rightly so. If you’re unaware of an impending threat, you’ll be unprepared to deal with it. However, modern-day awareness should go beyond your human senses. No matter how many cans of Red Bull you consume, you can’t be fully alert 24/7. Nor can you be in multiple places at once, see clearly in total darkness, or instantly and reliably detect the slightest hint of movement after watching a static scene for hours. Home security camera systems can meet all these needs, effectively amplifying your awareness in and around your most valued environment — your home. While it’s easy to make a phone call and have a company send technicians to your house to install an array of cameras, it’s certainly not the most cost-effective option, and ceding this responsibility to a third party might leave you unaware of gaping holes in your system (or in rarer cases, deliberate backdoors). It also means you’re more likely to be reliant on outside assistance to repair any faults or conduct maintenance. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to assemble a do-it-yourself system that meets your family’s needs and doesn’t break the bank. In this article, we’ll take a look at some important characteristics of a DIY home security camera setup and some noteworthy offerings in each category. The Ring Video Doorbell Pro is designed to be hardwired in place of an existing doorbell. It offers 1080P HD video, infrared night vision, two-way audio, and customizable motion sensor zones. Prepurchase Considerations Before we get into the details of various systems, it’s important to understand where cameras fit into your comprehensive home-defense plan. So, we’ll clarify some of the advantages and weaknesses of security cameras to help you decide if they’re well-suited to your needs. First, it’s important to remember that cameras are generally a passive security measure. They’re ideal for helping you observe a threat and, if you’re viewing live footage, orient toward it. In rare cases, they may also provide some assistance with your decision-making process — if your camera displays a burglar who is clearly armed, you’ll have a better idea of how to respond. But unless your camera happens to be connected to a MAARS unmanned ground robot equipped with an M240B and 40mm grenade launchers, or some sort of homebrew battle bot, it can’t help you take action against the threat. This makes a strong argument for pairing your camera system with an alarm system that can alert neighbors or law enforcement about intrusions (more on this point in the “Complementing Your Cameras” sidebar). Naysayers will claim that this passive nature invalidates the need for home security camera systems, but that isn’t the case. Visible cameras can serve as a powerful deterrent to criminals and help authorities track down any perpetrators who are foolish enough to disregard them. Even if you aren’t alerted to an unfolding event, recorded footage can help you identify potential future threats, such as the sketchy-looking guy you saw peering into your truck bed late at night. Indoor cameras can be trained on valuable targets such as gun safes and filing cabinets, or used to keep an eye on kids, housekeepers, and repair personnel. They can also corroborate your account of events after an incident, which can save you from an expensive court case or a drawn-out fight with your insurance company. Some insurance companies will offer lower rates to homeowners who have security cameras installed in or around their home, although many stipulate that the systems must be professionally monitored. If you’re looking for a fully expandable enterprise-grade solution, the Ubiquiti UniFi Protect NVR can store up to 30 days of 4K video footage from 15 indoor and/or outdoor PoE cameras. It also features RAID configuration that mirrors footage across multiple redundant hard drives. Like any other “internet of things” (IoT) device in your home, all internet-connected cameras are potentially vulnerable to hackers. There have been numerous reports of this occurring around the world, although the majority of these incidents affected users who simply never changed the default passwords on their cloud-based systems. The only sure-fire way to avoid this risk is to use hardwired, offline cameras, but using a complex password, enabling two-factor login authentication, and keeping firmware updated regularly will generally be enough to fend off opportunistic voyeurs. If internet-connected cameras are used, they can be safeguarded from remote access by running them through a separate router with strict permissions, a virtual local area network (VLAN) on your existing router, or a virtual private network (VPN). Wi-Fi-based cameras are more convenient to install, but are inherently more difficult to protect from unauthorized remote access than hardwired cameras. Wi-Fi jammers exist, despite being banned by the FCC, and can be used to broadcast noise on a specific frequency to interfere with wireless security devices. Admittedly, these sophisticated attacks are highly unlikely, especially for low-value residential targets. Since this is a DIY project, you’ll need to be realistic about where your installation abilities intersect with your needs. Anyone can mount and configure an off-the-shelf Wi-Fi camera system, but routing cables through walls or setting up a secure network attached storage (NAS) device to retain footage locally may be more than you’re willing to take on. If you’re especially ambitious, you can follow in the footsteps of Linus Tech Tips on YouTube and build your own hardware using a Raspberry Pi Zero W, mini camera attachment, 3D-printed case, and free open-source software. No matter what path you choose, it’s critical to study the available options and formulate a plan before buying any equipment. We’ll explore some of the most common options below, categorized based on placement. With a price tag of just $20 per camera and free, rolling 14-day cloud storage, the Wyze Cam V2 is one of the most economical options on the market. These cameras can also save footage locally onto a Micro SD card. Complementing Your Home Security Cameras If you’re truly determined to make your home more defensible, cameras should be just one component of your security ecosystem. They can be complemented by the following measures: External deterrents: Motion-activated lights, a barking dog, or even unfriendly landscaping — such as cactus or thick rose bushes below windows — can all serve to show a potential intruder that your home won’t be an easy target.Physical hardening: This includes deadbolts, enhanced door hinges and strike plates, security screens, window locks and bars, shatter-resistant window film, and padlocks on gates.Alarm systems: Many of the DIY camera companies, such as Ring, Nest, and Simplisafe, also sell configurable DIY alarms. Each of these companies offers various plans for professional monitoring. There are countless other tools and techniques to consider. Refer to Chad McBroom’s layered home security series for more details. Layer 1: Establishing the Framework.Layer 2: Home Improvement Tips.Layer 3: DIY Home Security Systems: Electronic Security.Layer 4: Home Defense against Home Invasion. Exterior Perimeter Serving as the outermost layer of your home security camera system, exterior-facing cameras can capture a wide range of crimes, including vandalism, vehicle burglary and theft, and hit-and-run incidents, as well as the approach and departure of anyone who attempts to gain entry to your home. They can also record incidents outside your neighbors’ properties, which may encourage those neighbors to get their own camera systems, building a neighborhood network that makes everyone safer. Hardwired The old-school choice for this application is a closed-circuit TV (CCTV) system, which uses cameras connected to a central recorder via coaxial cable. Many commercial applications still use CCTV, but a more modern alternative is a power over ethernet (PoE) system. This uses a single ethernet cable, like the one that connects a desktop PC to a router, to provide both data connection and power for each internet protocol (IP) camera. These IP cameras are typically connected to a powered network switch unit, along with a network video recorder (NVR) that stores the footage locally on hard drives. Access to the NVR can be restricted to a single computer in your home, or it can be configured for remote access from anywhere in the world through a phone app — the decision is one of security versus convenience. Ubiquiti and Reolink offer popular lines of PoE cameras ($50-200 each) and matching NVRs ($200-300). Most homes can be thoroughly covered by six to eight exterior cameras, but larger properties can require significantly more. It may be tempting to choose a smaller number of ultra-wide-angle cameras for full coverage, but this has to be balanced with a sufficient level of detail — enough to clearly see a face or license plate. Cameras should be placed out of arm’s reach to prevent tampering. Night vision quality is especially important in this category, so factor that into your decision-making process. Even though you’ll only need to run one ethernet cable per camera, mounting hardwired cameras, drilling through walls, routing the wires to the switch, and setting up the NVR is a substantial — and costly — job. This leads us to the next subcategory. Wi-Fi and Wire-Free Wi-Fi-based exterior cameras are much easier to set up, since they transmit data wirelessly and can be connected to any point in your home’s power grid. For this reason, they’ve become more common than DIY setups with hardwired connections. Mounting considerations are the same; however, wireless connectivity opens a new avenue for tampering. Even if cameras aren’t connected to the internet or a cloud storage service, anyone within range of your wireless network can attempt to access individual cameras or your network. Camera systems with network connectivity enable convenient remote access to footage. However, this may also open the door to unauthorized access by hackers. There are countless choices in this segment, but popular brands include Nest, Arlo, Reolink, and Blink. Expect to spend about $100 to $250 per camera, excluding installation costs. It’s also possible to build a wire-free system using Wi-Fi cameras that run on internal batteries, but reliability and longevity will suffer, especially in hot or cold climates. Video quality is often reduced in an attempt to extend battery life. Then again, these cameras are by far the simplest to install and can remain functional during a power outage. Points of Entry Although there’s some overlap with the exterior camera category, door cameras deserve unique attention. If you’re only going to install one camera on the outside of your home, it should be near the front door. Despite Hollywood depictions of cat burglars creeping through skylights in the dark, a substantial number of home invasions occur through the front door in broad daylight. Point-of-entry cameras also offer an advantage against porch pirates, suspicious door-to-door salespeople, or anyone else who wants to come knocking. Doorbell cameras are the most common choice in this category, since they can tap into the existing wall power for reliable operation. Ring, Nest, Arlo, and August all offer easy-to-install options for $100 to $250 (plus a small monthly fee to store recordings in the cloud). If you rent an apartment or condo and can’t make exterior modifications, consider an over-the-door camera, like the Remo+ DoorCam, or a peephole camera. Some products in the latter category, such as the Ring Peephole Cam, replace the peephole and are visible from the outside; others, such as those from Brinno, look through the existing lens and cannot be seen from the exterior. Remo+ offers a clever solution for those who rent apartments or condos. The company’s DoorCam fits over the top of a door, running on replaceable batteries with an estimated lifespan of 12 months. URL: remoplus.co Inside the Home Placing cameras inside the home isn’t for everyone — a few homeowners will be deterred by the risk (however small it may be) of a home security camera being hacked, or simply won’t feel comfortable with cameras watching their every move. But if you can overcome these hurdles, a network of interior cameras is easy to set up with little to no technical knowledge. Those of us with children can use them as a high-quality baby monitor replacement to watch the kids in another room, or to keep babysitters accountable while we’re away. High-quality night vision and motion detection capabilities are key considerations for any system. Search online for sample footage before you decide on a system. Like outdoor systems, indoor systems can use wired IP cameras or Wi-Fi cameras; both will be simpler to install due to the proximity of power outlets and lack of exposure to the elements. Most newer homes come pre-wired with ethernet jacks in each room, making it easy to install a wired PoE system without running additional cables through walls. Systems with motion-detection capability can be configured to send alerts to your phone via app or text message, giving you an instant notification if something moves when nobody’s home, as long as you can eliminate false-positives from pets or oscillating fans. Most of the big players in outdoor cameras offer indoor counterparts — Ubiquiti specializes in PoE setups; Ring, Nest, Arlo, and Simplisafe all offer comparable Wi-Fi-based systems; Reolink has some of each. At $20 apiece, the Wyze Cam V2 is a great budget-friendly Wi-Fi option. On the Inside Looking Out It doesn’t take much of a leap to realize that cameras inside your house can easily be aimed outside — set on a windowsill, for example. There are advantages and disadvantages of this tactic. These cameras can’t be easily tampered with, and they’re easier to conceal, if that’s a priority. They may be a viable option for those living in an apartment or rented home where cameras can’t be left outside or permanently mounted. On the other hand, image quality can be affected by glare on the glass, either from sunlight during the day or interior lights at night. The glass is especially problematic for cameras with built-in infrared LEDs for night vision, since it tends to reflect that light and wash out the image. Lastly, glass can cause motion detection to become less reliable. Some of these downsides can be alleviated by installing motion-activated lights or infrared illuminators on the exterior of the home. Closing Thoughts Whether you choose to install a 360-degree perimeter of hardwired exterior cameras or a single wireless doorbell cam, carefully assessing your family’s needs and building a DIY home security camera system will heighten your awareness of a variety of threats. If the unthinkable happens and your home is entered by force, indoor cameras can provide an instant alert as well as critical documentation. Consider this the next time you lie in bed wondering what just went bump in the night. [Editor's Note: Photography provided courtesy of Manufacturers.] More on Home Security Layer 1: Establishing the Framework.Layer 2: Home Improvement Tips.Layer 3: DIY Home Security Systems: Electronic Security.Layer 4: Home Defense against Home Invasion. 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